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Astros’ chase for Beltran down to wire

Associated Press

The Houston Astros’ bid to keep Carlos Beltran is coming down to the final day.

Competing against the New York Mets and perhaps other teams, the Astros faced a 9 p.m.(PST) deadline today to re-sign the speedy center fielder who helped Houston come within a win of its first World Series appearance.

Beltran, 27, has been seeking a contract in excess of $100 million. Scott Boras, his agent, wouldn’t give an indication of where negotiations stood.

“We’re still talking and having a dialogue with all the involved teams,” he said Friday.

After today, the Astros would be unable to sign Beltran until May 1. Asked whether there would be a decision today, Boras’ response was just as vague.

“I don’t know. It could,” he said. “And then again, there’s something that may take a while longer.”

Also Friday, the Los Angeles Dodgers closed in on a contract with postseason hero Derek Lowe worth about $36 million over four years, and finalized their $24 million, three-year deal to keep left-hander Odalis Perez.

Kevin Millwood, who like Beltran and Lowe is represented by Boras, was likely to finalize a $7 million, one-year contract with the Cleveland Indians today.

Millwood will be guaranteed $3 million in salary. He also gets a $4 million signing bonus, but that money is contingent on him not spending more than 20 days on the disabled list for a shoulder or elbow injury sustained while pitching, not fielding or batting.

Millwood also can earn an additional $1 million in performance bonuses, getting the full amount if he makes 34 starts or pitches 215 innings.

If Millwood spends 21 or more days on the DL for an injury to his shoulder or elbow sustained while pitching, he would lose 1/183rd of the signing bonus for each day on the DL, including the first 20. That reduction calculates to $21,857 per day.

While waiting for Beltran’s decision, the Mets reached a preliminary agreement on a one-year contract with infielder Miguel Cairo worth about $900,000.

Left-hander Chris Hammond and the San Diego Padres agreed to a $750,000, one-year contract that is contingent on the reliever passing a physical next week. Gabe White, another left-handed reliever, agreed to a $600,000, one-year contract with the Atlanta Braves.

Designated hitter Ruben Sierra, who faces a deadline today to re-sign with the Yankees, is leaning toward staying with New York, according to his agent, Chuck Berry. Also facing today’s deadline are pitcher Pedro Astacio and first baseman Dave McCarty (Boston); catcher Brent Mayne (Los Angeles); and outfielder Doug Glanville (Philadelphia). All but Glanville were considering re-signing.

Among players eligible for salary arbitration, Detroit first baseman Carlos Pena agreed to a one-year contract worth $2,575,000.

There are 103 players who remain eligible to file by Friday.

Mientkiewicz wants to keep ball

The Red Sox have the title. Now they want the ball.

Backup first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz caught the ball for the final out of the World Series, ending Boston’s 86-year championship drought.

He then put the souvenir in a safe deposit box. Only one problem: The Red Sox say the ball should be in their hands.

The player who didn’t join the team until July 31 still wants to keep it but recognizes its meaning to the team’s passionate rooters – a prize that completed a four-game sweep of St. Louis and ended the misery.

“Of course I want Red Sox fans to see the ball,” Mientkiewicz said in a call he made to WEEI radio. “The main reason why I hung on to the darn thing is because I want people to see it.”

So does Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, and he planned to ask Mientkiewicz to give it to the team.

“We want it to be part of Red Sox archives or museums so it can be shared with the fans,” Lucchino told The Boston Globe. “We would hope he would understand the historical nature of it.”

Lucchino and Red Sox owner John Henry did not return e-mails requesting comment. Messages left at the homes of Mientkiewicz and his father were not returned and a woman who came to the door at his Coral Gables, Fla., house said he wasn’t there.

Mientkiewicz said he had a “nice conversation” with Henry.

In an era rife with memorabilia sellers and collectors – the New England Patriots once sold jars of dirt for $10 from Foxboro Stadium before it was torn down after the 2001 season – such an historic baseball might command hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.

After all, on the very day Mientkiewicz squeezed the final out in his glove, the ball Barry Bonds hit for his 700th home run brought a top bid of $804,129 after a 10-day online auction.

Mientkiewicz said the ball he caught was “my retirement fund,” the Globe reported. On Friday, he said he was kidding.

“If Mr. Lucchino wants to talk to me about the ball personally, he has my phone number. He can call me,” Mientkiewicz said on WEEI.

Mientkiewicz, unhappy as a part-time player last season, is set to make $3.75 million in the final year of his two-year contract. The team has an option to renew it at $4 million for 2006 but has said it intends to trade Mientkiewicz or its other first baseman, Kevin Millar, before spring training.

The Red Sox obtained the slick-fielding Mientkiewicz in a trade deadline deal with the Minnesota Twins.

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